Joshua arrived at the river panting. He was out of breath because he’d run very fast, his long legs churning, heart racing, goatskin tunic flapping in the breeze. His right hand held tight to the long walking stick he was never without as he walked the fields or drove the cattle to pasture.
It was a lovely Spring morning in Swaziland. Rain had fallen the night before and great drops of it shone like jewels upon the verdure of the veld. But Joshua wasn’t aware of the beauty today. His head buzzed with the sounds of Joanna’s screaming. Producing a cloth from somewhere in the folds of his long red skirt, he mopped at the beads of sweat on his face. My God, it’s been a long night, he ruminated. And I’m so tired. Oh, Lord, forgive me. I’ve never been a coward before. But I feel so helpless. What could I have done to help? They wouldn’t let me inside the hut.
A large flat rock lay before the rushing stream of the tributary and Joshua eased himself down upon it. He gazed with dismay at the turbulent flow of the river.
Suddenly a strong hand touched his shoulder. He hadn‘t heard the man approach. “Kunjani?” (How are you?) came the anxious voice of his cousin Barnabas.
“Kulungile” (I’m fine) he replied.
Barnabas nodded and surmised that Joshua wished to be alone. “Sala kahle,” he flung over his shoulder as he made for the spot where his cattle were waiting.
The river was high from the deluge of Spring rain and Joshua stared hard at it. He was remembering another spring morning in his youth when he and his little brother Samuel had taken a walk to the river. Their mother had warned them to be careful and he’d sworn to watch over Samuel, the beloved brother who idolized him and followed him wherever he went.
Although the river was high, they’d decided to wade across, unaware of the huge crocodile watching them from the bank. Since this bend of the river was normally shallow, the crocs rarely ventured this far. But out of the corner of his eye, Joshua spotted the large reptile making for Samuel.
He acted without thinking. Lunging at Samuel, he seized the small child firmly under the arms and swung him into the air, tossing him onto the riverbank. Then the beast turned on Joshua, clasping strong jaws over the boy’s feet and pulling him under. He gasped as cold water engulfed him, filling his nose and lungs and making it difficult to breathe. But he fought the crocodile with all his strength, breaking free twice until, pulled under for a third time, he finally freed himself by biting the beast on the nose. He smiled ruefully as he recalled how everyone fussed over him, calling him brave when all he’d done was what anyone else would do--saved the little brother who looked to him for protection.
Joshua delved in his pocket again and came out with a paperback Bible, translated into Siswati. He turned to his favorite passage: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;” (Isaiah 43:2 NIV) He stopped and his eyes burned with tears, tears for Samuel who was weaker than he and hadn‘t survived the pestilence that struck last year. Now it was Joanna in the midst of the waters. Summoning up courage, Joshua closed his Bible, uttered a short prayer, then rose shakily to his feet and retraced his steps.
Sarah, the midwife, met him at the door. “You have a healthy son,” she cried, dark face beaming her approval. Grasping his hand, she led him inside where in the dim light of the little mud hut he saw his wife smiling up at him. Silently, Joanna handed him the small bundle that squirmed in her arms. And Joshua beheld a beautiful sight. Squinting up at him and pursuing tiny lips for a cry was the face of Samuel as Joshua beheld him years ago, when the little brother was born.
“We must think of a name,” said Joanna weakly.
“His name is Samuel”, Joshua said with conviction.
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